The work of the Arctic Council and its subsidiary bodies was paused following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Norway took over the Chairship in May 2023 and has worked to progressively restore the Council’s operations. Working Groups and Expert Groups are resuming virtual meetings, and projects are once again making progress.

Mandate and composition of the Arctic Council

The Arctic Council, is an intergovernmental forum established in 1996 by the Ottawa founding Declaration, with the aim of promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction between the Arctic States, Arctic Indigenous peoples and other Arctic inhabitants on issues focused on sustainable development and environmental protection

The Arctic Council is made up of eight Arctic States – Canada, Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Norway and the United States – and six Permanent Participants representing the Indigenous communities of the Arctic. The six groups with full consultation rites are Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous People of the North and the Saami Council.

There are over 35 observer groups made up of non-Arctic states, intergovernmental and interparliamentary organizations and non-governmental organisations, including ACOPS, who also participate in the work and the meetings of the Arctic Council.

The Arctic Council works to a ten-year Strategy (2021 – 2030) which guides the work towards the Arctic as a “region of peace, stability and constructive cooperation, that is a vibrant, prosperous, sustainable and secure home for all its inhabitants, including Indigenous Peoples, and where their rights and well-being are respected.” It makes decisions by consensus of the Members. 

Institutional structure

The Arctic Council Secretariat was established in 2013 and is based in Tromso, Norway. The Council is chaired on a two year rolling basis, and at the end of each chairmanship, a Ministerial meeting hosted by the current Chairmanship is organised. Generally, but not always, a Declaration is adopted by the members.

2023 – 2025 Norway          2015 – 2017 United States

2021 – 2023 Russian Federation          2013 – 2015 Canada

2019 – 2021 Iceland          2011 – 2013 Sweden

2017 – 2019 Finland          2009 – 2011 Kingdom of Denmark

The Arctic Council’s work is organised through six Working Groups and a free-standing Black Carbon and Methane Expert Group covering a wide range of issues relevant to the Arctic.

Each Working Group has established a number of Expert Groups to lead on specific issues, for example, PAME has a Shipping Expert Group and a Marine Litter Expert group among others. The working groups aim to provide a scientifically-sound knowledge-base on which decisions can be made and also develop best practices and recommendations for safe and sustainable activities in the Arctic.

Working Groups of the Arctic Council

  1. Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment [PAME] – Website
  2. Arctic Contaminants Action Programme [ACAP] – Website
  3. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme [AMAP]– Website
  4. Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna [CAFF] – Website
  5. Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response [EPPR] – Website
  6. Sustainable Development Working Group [SDWG] – Website

Our contribution

We primarily participate in PAME Working Group meetings and its Expert Groups on Arctic shipping, marine litter, MPAs, the ecosystem approach and alien invasive species. A wide range of projects is organised under the auspices of the PAME WG with ACOPS participating in the Arctic Shipping Best Practice Information Forum, and contributing to projects concerned with raising awareness of the provisions of the 2012 Cape Town Agreement on fishing vessels, and improving the knowledge base for work on invasive alien species. A further area of interest is the Arctic Contaminants Action Program where ACOPS participates in Expert Groups concerned with the Indigenous People’s Contaminant Action Program and Short-Lived Climate Pollutants. The Arctic Council’s Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response Working Group also manages projects of interest to ACOPS.

Useful resources

Arctic Council – The Arctic Council (arctic-council.org)

PAME – Arctic Shipping Best Practice Information Forum

The Arctic Council A Quick Guide 3rd Edition 2021 / 2022 The Arctic Council: A Quick Guide (arctic-council.org)

A Chircop, F Goerlandt, C Aporta and R Pelot, Governance of Arctic Shipping: Rethinking Risks, Human Impacts and Regulation, Springer, 2020. ISBN 978-3-030-44974-2 – Open source – Download